3 Ways to Keep Your Car Clean (even with kids!)

3_ways_to_keep_the_car_cleanIs your car like mine?

My car is a necessity: living in the suburbs, it’s the most reliable way to get my family from home to work, school, soccer practice, and piano lessons. My car is also our home away from home: it’s where my husband and I spend hours with our kids, driving to Grandma’s, laughing, and catching up. It’s our second living room, a place where we’re all together.

My car is also a mess.

Often, when I am driving—especially when we’re in traffic—my kids call out, “Mom, this is for you!” Since my focus is on keeping us all safe, I keep my eyes on the road and twist my right arm backward to take whatever they’re offering. Inevitably, they thrust a banana peel, granola bar wrapper, or empty juice box in my hand. It’s annoying—and dangerous.

Unfortunately, if I tell my kids to hold onto the trash until we’ve stopped, it somehow ends up on the floor and we all forget about it—until the smell.

Since I know my kids could be better at keeping my car clean—they don’t, after all, throw banana peels on the floor of our house!—I’ve implemented three easy organizing techniques to keep my car clean:

1. The Pit Stop: Whenever I stop to fill up my gas tank, I go through my car. I take five minutes—that’s all you need!— to empty out trash that’s accumulated. I look under seats for missing items (and more trash), and I ask my kids to pick up the books and toys that are strewn about the back seat. I make it a game (who can pick up the most books?), and they are (surprisingly) eager to cooperate.

2. The Trash Bag: For too long, I drove my car without a trash bag. This resulted in the aforementioned “Mom, here’s my juice box!” habit and generally made my car unsightly. Determined to get ahead of the mess, I made myself a washable car trash bag (that’s it in the photo). I dove into my box of leftover fabric, finding two pieces of complementary patterns and white strapping for a handle. I made the handle extra long to hang over the back of the driver’s seat. A quick ten minutes with my sewing machine and I had a bag to hang in the car. Now, the kids have no excuse to give Mom their trash, and when that bag gets grimy, I can throw it into the washing machine for cleaning. If sewing isn’t your thing, try using a bag you already have on hand, making sure it’s easy to clean.

3. The Deep Clean: I thought about having a no food rule in my car—and then I had kids. Once you realize that Cheerios can be magical to toddlers, it’s hard to say no eating in the car. So, I let my kids snack in the back seat, and I end up with crumbs is every possible spot. The best solution is a deep clean, once a month. I schedule it on my calendar for 30 minutes, crank up the tunes, and go to work. With a hand-held vacuum and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, I make the crumbs disappear. The key, for me, is the 30 minute time limit and the music. Getting the crumb culprits involved helps, too; after all, once kids see how much of their snack ends up under their booster seats, perhaps they’ll be tidier next time. (A stretch, I know, but I’m hopeful!)

Any tips you’d add? I’d love to hear them in the comments.